While everyone knows that regularly attending jiu-jitsu class is crucial if you want to achieve your goals, many people overlook the opportunities that come with attending an open mat.
These training sessions aren’t structured like regular classes, mainly because they aren’t classes at all. Instead, they’re a chance for jiu-jitsu practitioners of all experience levels to be let off the proverbial leash and train however they want with whomever they want.
Despite all the ways they can help you improve, though, a shocking number of students who attend class during the week never show up for open mat. What they might not realize is that by doing so, they’re holding themselves back.
Although not all gyms implement open mats as part of their program, black belt Kenny Kim of Kenny Kim Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Marietta, Georgia knows how important it is to have open mat as a way for both his students and students from other gyms to come together to “learn, share, and play.”
Having run a successful open mat at his gym for six years now, Professor Kim has seen the benefits it has on individual jiujiteiros and on the jiu-jitsu community as a whole. Whether you’ve never been to an open mat session before or you’re a regular attendee, he has some advice that’s sure to help you get the most out of your time there.
The first thing you need to do is to make sure you’re going to the right place. Kim says that whether you’re attending open mat at your own gym or a different one, there shouldn’t be a mat fee you have to pay:
“The gym owner shouldn’t look at an open mat session as a marketing tool or a money-making event. Students should be sure they are attending a true open mat at a gym that has no interest in recruiting them to their team.”
Of course, just as you expect to be treated well by the people running the open mat, it’s important to do your part as a participant to ensure that you’re benefiting – rather than burdening – the people you’re training with.
“Participants should respect they gym they’re training at. If they require you to sign a waiver, sign the waiver.”
He also cautions against going just to show off your skills.
“Be humble! You’re sure to get surprised by some of the folks [you roll with].”
Once you’re settled in, it’s up to you to decide how you want to spend your time there.
“You should not be in a class structure or told to do anything. You should be able to drill, roll, or just sit there and soak it all in. It’s a time to do what you feel is important for you on that particular day or week.”
Even though you’re more than welcome to sit on the sidelines and observe the whole time, it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunities that can come with rolling with people of all different experience levels . . . even the ones from rival gyms. “Students are afraid that they’ll get smashed by a lower rank from a rival team,” says Kim. It’s a shame, because according to him, those students are missing the point of the session in the first place.
“Don’t go to open mat and train with the same partner you always train with at your gym. Find new partners, new ranks, new styles to train with. Everyone can offer you something, even if they’re ranked lower than you are.”
For those who want to get some different perspectives from upper belts, attending open mat is a great opportunity to get it done without emptying your wallet. Kim compares it to going to a free seminar or semi-private lesson because of the potential to learn new techniques and receive help from more experienced practitioners.
Not all gyms are lucky enough to have some of the planet’s top black belts show up for open mat, but you are likely to roll with some knowledgeable people who can teach you some cool new tricks.
If the person keeping you from attending open mats isn’t you, but your coach, Kim advises finding someone else to train under.
“Open mat is like going to the basketball court and playing a pick-up game… [but] one of the most common reasons students don’t attend is because their own gym forbids them from going. There’s a lot of politics involved. If you feel that, get out.”
It’s understandable that coaches might not want their students skipping their regular classes to go learn from another professor, but open mat is a time to share jiu-jitsu with other people who love it, regardless of any pre-existing rivalries between gyms or individual students.
Attending normal classes is vital if you want to learn jiu-jitsu, but if you want to get the most out of the sport, start attending open mat sessions. Invite your friends and former competition opponents, too!
Jiu-jitsu is an art in which everyone can learn from everyone else, and open mat is a great opportunity to put aside any feelings of pride and just enjoy rolling. It’s the perfect way to experience the thrill that made you fall in love BJJ in the first place and share it with others who share the same passion that you do.